At the end of the fall, Seoul has a lantern festival along the Cheongyecheon– the stream that cuts through the center of the city. The spring has a festival in honor of Buddha’s birthday which involves more of the traditional, hang lanterns along with some whimsical displays in the river of animals and other themed scenes.
The winter festival is pretty much exclusively big and glowing paper art celebrating the history and culture of Korea. Showing farming, traditional weddings, and scenes based on Korean myths, along with a glowing panorama of the original perimeter of Seoul.
It’s free to come spend an evening perusing the beautiful display. As with most things in Seoul, it was totally packed when my friends and I went. We stood in a long queue on the bridge waiting to go down to the stream. We also had to do regular checks to make sure we had each other, not lost among the crowds of couples and families with young children.
Most of the displays were from the long and glorious Joseon era of Korean history. Above is a “turtle boat” lantern. These are a symbol of patriotism as well as military force. General Lee, whose statue occupies Gwanghwamun Square along with King Sejoeng, the most esteemed ruler in Korean history, devised these boats as a method of deterring Japanese naval forces from invading Korea. This display was a mechanical one. Steam poured out of the dragon’s mouth and the sails would rise and fall.
Where I come from in the north east of the US, most outdoor activities are under ban between October and April. In Korea, that’s not the case. Plenty of events like this still go on into the winter, and even open markets are still active all year round. Fortunately heavy snow is unusual in Seoul, so as long as you can bundle up enough against the biting wind, you’ll be fine.